By Jim Heffernan
I came across this book while researching how much of “A Demon-Haunted World……” (See previous book review) was Ann Druyan and how much was Carl Sagan. I never came up with a clear answer but made a delightful discovery finding Sasha Sagan’s book.
The title is part of a line in Carl and Ann’s book/movie, “Contact”: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness (of space) is bearable only through love.” Sasha tells us that the line originated with her mother, Ann Druyan.
The author is the daughter of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. She was 14 when Carl died in 1996. Her book is divided into 25 chapters that explore the central events in everyone’s life, from birth to death and everything in-between. She explains her need for ritual on page 7, “The biggest drawback to being secular is the lack of a shared culture. I can live without an afterlife, I can live without a god. But not without celebrations, not without community, not without ritual.”
In each of her chapters, Sasha examines the changes we go through in life. She weaves elements of memoir, history, anthropology, theology, and science into each one. The result is always a sense of wonder and gratitude for just how special our lives are. She explores not only our European culture but cultural practices all over the world. On page 260 she summarizes, “No matter what the universe has in store, it cannot take away from the fact that you were born. You’ll have some joy and some pain, and all the other experiences that make up what it’s like to be a tiny part of a grand cosmos. No matter what happens next, you were here. And even when any record of our individual lives is lost to the ages, that won’t detract from the fact that we were. We lived. We were part of the enormity. All the great and terrible parts of being alive, the shocking sublime beauty and heartbreak, the monotony, the interior thoughts, the shared pain and pleasure. It really happened. All of it. On this little world that orbits a yellow star out in the great vastness. And that alone is cause for celebration.”
While her book definitely has a humanist, atheist viewpoint, it is never fatalistic or condescending. She has no desire to discard ritual traditions, wonder, and moral grounding. On page 5 she says, “Growing up in our home, there was no conflict between science and spirituality.”
285 Pages Published Oct. 22, 2019
Available at Cloud and Leaf Bookstore in Manzanita, Tillamook Public Library
Goodreads 4.11 out of 53,234 ratings